Light Up the House – You are the Splendor of the World

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lightbasket“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.14-16).

“Who said your light was little?” Ted Dekker

As we seek to follow Jesus in fullness, there may be no greater quest than to fully understand who we are in Him; to define our unique identity by His Word of declaration. I would suggest that from this proper understanding comes the freedom and power to live out the high calling to which God-Jesus Himself has called us (1 Thessalonians 5.23-24; 2 Thessalonians 2.16-17).

Our identity first comes from a relational understanding of who Jesus is – a task intended to start in this life and launch into eternity. It says much about the transforming power of the Christ message that Jesus describes himself as the light of the world (John 8.12; 9.5) and now here in Matthew declares that you and I are that light as well. He bestows upon us his nature because that is the outcome of His relational union with us. His mission has become our mission; His nature, our nature; His splendor – ours!

Notice the absolute Word of declaration that Jesus gives in the opening words of these verses – “You are the light of the world”. In seven English words, he tells us who we are without making conditions to it. He’s teaching a large crowd of people who are following after Him; people at varying levels of discipleship. He doesn’t single anyone out based on a higher degree of holiness and say, “Look at this woman! She is the light of the world because of her great deeds.” No, he is declaring to the whole crowd that they are the “light” prior to any acts of righteousness done on their part. He doesn’t say, “Follow me for 20 years and prove yourself…. Clean up your act and then you might have a hint of a shine…. Go to the right church…. Have your doctrinal beliefs fine-tuned – and then you will be the light”. No, He pronounces us as the light of the world separate from any accomplishment of our own. The next sentence takes all this a step further. The nature of a city built on a hill is that it is easily seen. Jesus speaks in the absurd when considering what it would take to hide such a city; to camouflage its place – it’s identity.

So it is with the follower of Christ. Not only is our identity not based on our works, it is ridiculous to think that that identity is hidden when we or others try to camouflage it by sin, condemnation and failure. Jesus’ Word of Declaration is so unequivocal that even the scars of this world cannot dim us or change who we are. What is more, collectively WE are the light of the world. One light is bright, two is better, three better still, a body of Christ followers – wow! It is the identity and purpose of the entire family of Christ to illuminate the whole world. May we reject with the authority of the Word any other false identification other than the one announced by Jesus – you (we) ARE the light of the world.

This understanding of identity does not lead us away from acts of righteousness but is the actual thrust toward them. All human beings live out of who they believe they are. Therefore, if I understand and believe that God has already defined and elevated my standing through Christ (“You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a city set on a hill”, etc.), works of love, kindness and radiance are mine, simply needing to be released.

Now what does this have to with marriage? Jesus said, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” There are many assumptions we have to make when we read Scripture as to what certain characters fully had in mind when they said the things they said. So, I’m not sure, but doesn’t it make sense that Jesus would be thinking of our families when he uses the metaphor of physical light in the house. In fact, shouldn’t our identity as light bearers be first practiced within the relationships of our households? And don’t you see how understanding our identity and purpose given to us by Christ would radically affect how we esteem our wives/husbands? How we invest in our children?

Finally, it is our calling as believers in Jesus to let our light and our deeds shine in such a way that Abba is glorified. It has nothing to do with people looking at us and saying, “Oh, what a good husband he is! What a good wife! Or parent! If there is something supernatural happening in our house it is only because of the supernatural splendor of God who abides there with us. May His name be honored! Amen.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4.6)

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Are you “somewhere safe with someone good?”

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“Oh, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them out. Just as they are – chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” Dinah Maria (Murlock) Craik

Unforgiving servants always end up in prison.

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“The key to forgiving others is to quit focusing on what they did ‘to’ you and start focusing on what God did ‘for’ you…. Unforgiving servants always end up in prison. Prisons of anger, guilt and depression. God doesn’t put us in prison we create our own…. Let me be clear. Hatred will sour your outlook and break your back. The load of bitterness is simply too heavy. Your knees will buckle under the strain and your heart will break beneath the weight. The mountain before you is steep enough without the heaviness of hatred on your back. The wisest choice – the only choice – is for you to drop the anger. You will never be called upon to give anyone more grace than God has already given you” (Max Lucado, “In the Grip of Grace” pp.156-7)

Following Alone

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I can see where there may be such a thing as being “persecuted” in marriage because of one’s desire to follow hard after Christ and one’s partner having no such desire or is content with their comfortable yet stagnate “form of religion”. A lack of intensity and intention to be fully led by the Spirit by either will lead to conflict. Now the question becomes for the dedicated believer, “How do I reflect the heart, submission and servant-hood of Jesus in the midst of such disquieting tension and difference?” Where do I find the “blessing”? Matthew 5.10-12

Peace-lovers

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“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5.9).

“The children of this world love to fish in troubled waters, but the children of God are the peace-makers, the quiet in the land.” Matthew Henry 

Last night as Robyn and I sat in the yard looking up to the heavens, we were like little children filled with the wonder of it all. The temperature was pleasant; a gentle breeze rustled through the trees. God was there. I was aware of His gentle peace over-shadowing me.

Yet it occurs to me that millions of people in the Middle East, North Korea, Ferguson, Mo. or next door to me are looking to those same skies and feeling anything but peace. Children all over the world go to sleep not just fearing an imaginary Boogeyman under their beds but the real life terrors and renewed traumas that mark the reality of all their days and nights. Their parents are in a frenzy wondering how they are going to protect and provide for them – or – in their own beleaguered state abandon them through drugs, self-absorption and/or literally leaving them at the door steps of the state.

Needless to say I do not always feel the same sense of peace I felt last night but the contrast is stunning. My life has had its moments of sorrow and unsettledness as well, but I have no inkling of what it would be like to live in the madness of war, civil unrest, domestic violence, or homelessness. I have tasted the peace of God in my pain and it causes me to ask for more – not only for myself but those with whom my life intersects. In this beatitude Jesus calls us who know His peace and to find the joy of replicating its stillness in the hearts and communities of those around us. Let’s look closer.

The term “peacemaker” (eirenopoios) carries with it some provoking definitions. A peacemaker is one who is peaceful in character. It has become part of his/her nature to feel, to act and to react in stillness and calm. Peace is no longer dependent upon circumstances. In spite of the tumult around them, peacemakers have so exercised the peace of God within that they remain composed in the midst of the storm. This is the ideal of course. None of us have matured to the point where we are peaceful all the time but it is to this place we are called.

A peacemaker is also peace loving. It has become their affection and strong desire to first respond to conflict with a spirit of pause and reconciliation, rather than with one of defense and counter-attack. The peacemaker is unsettled when there is tension but it is not for their sake or for their security but because they long for the heights of their relationship with another. Peace lovers are at their core lovers of people as is their God.

This also means that peacemakers are not petty. How many of the conflicts we engage in are ridiculous and pride-driven? Oh how I wish it was my first inclination, my first love to not engage in such trivial pursuits. It is embarrassing to say but I “love” to protect myself, to make sure you know I am “right”. It is not beyond me to even attack and attempt to humiliate you in order to guard “my kingdom”. Contrast this to what James tells us: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

Eirenopoios also carries with it the sense of one who works at making peace; one who “studies to be quiet”. Being a peacemaker does not come naturally to us as human beings. There is labor involved as we move against our pride and toward the one with whom we are in conflict. That is why the Bible so often refers to the struggle we must engage in in order to be architects of peace.

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14.9).

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34.14).

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12.14).

Peacemaking must become something we exercise in order to make it an effective tool for ourselves and the Kingdom of God. Last week as I was driving to work I saw hundreds of runners participating in the “Hood to Coast” relay race. I said to myself, “Man! I should have participated in that!” That’s a “funny” statement because to participate in the Hood to Coast means training and preparation – neither of which I am interested in adding to my daily regimen. So, it is with peacemaking. We can all admire it when it is expressed through someone else but are we willing to put forth the effort needed to make it second nature to our daily interactions?

            So what of marriage? If you have been married for any length of time at all it takes little imagination to see the relevance of adding this virtue in your relationship. Spending time with anyone for any extended period of time will present the need for peacemaking. Pride and self-centeredness will at some point drive a wedge between even the best of relationships. As this is the case it is imperative that this quality be cultivated into our relationships if we are to have the kind of intimacies Christian marriage must reflect. Specifically, peace-loving in marriage:

  • Begins with an internal personal peace that comes from surrendering to the peace of God made available to us through Jesus. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Romans 5.1). Many who do not believe can no doubt find a type of peace that comes from their own personal resolve and application of good interpersonal skills. However, not having peace with God leaves them short in finding the deep seeded peace that comes from knowing God has broken down every wall of enmity between themselves and God. Consequently, having peace with God gives us an inner peace that is the foundation on which to build any maturing human relationship.  
  • Allows us to see and anticipate the best intentions of our mate. Without peace we are all much too quick to think the worst of the other. But as a peace lover we assume the best of the other person resulting in a massive reduction of those stupid things we say and do when we ignorantly imagine the worst in another.
  • Prevents needless quarreling over matters of opinion and insignificance. There will be enough differences over matters that are important – child rearing, financial investments and management, love making preferences, etc. Peace-loving will be needed in these moments as well but why must we fight over the way our towels are folded, how to load a dishwasher or who your favorite Beetle was? Really? But such is where we live. Think of all the energy we spend in such things that distract us from the things that really do matter! If the Kingdom of God is to be advanced by the witness of God’s love in marriage why would we ever waste our time over affairs of no eternal consequence? Worse – why would we ever machete the spirit of our “co-heir in the gift of life” (1 Peter 3.7) over such idiotic issues?
  • Empowers us to peacefully talk about concerns that really do matter. Obviously there will be plenty of times in marriage where legitimate differences arise. However, peace-lovers understand their security is not based on their spouse always agreeing with them. In fact they welcome the counterpoint as it shows a respect for the other and is often a source of a greater wisdom. Note to my brothers: could applying this aspect of peacemaking to your leadership skills affect how well we lead in our homes?
  • Speeds up the process of forgiveness and reconciliation. There is nothing more toxic to a marriage than the steady acidic breakdown of oneness through unforgiveness. Once again this brings us back to the cross – to Jesus. When I offend Him he does not turn his back on me or hold a grudge. He is quick to forgive for the debt has already been paid. If unforgiveness is the toxin then forgiveness must be the salve and the beginning place of restoration. I can say I have tasted the sweetness of my Robyn’s love for peace and indeed it is the salve.

Finally, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12.18). Lord, give us the blessing that comes from loving peace, let that peace begin at home and may it become an expression of your surrounding and pervasive shalom for us all. Amen.

Author’s note: Sorry, it has been a while since I have written but it has been hard to find the time to write since I began my new job this last summer. I really do love the new job but I miss having the time to write and consider the things the Lord is teaching me with you. Please pray that I can find the time to get some thoughts down on a more regular basis. God’s fullness to you all, Mark

 

 

Mercy IV

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Have you ever wondered what it means for the people of God to be granted the honor of being “priests” of our God and Father (Revelation 1.6)? Probably not because we rarely hear ourselves referring to one another as priests – but we are. Just like every believer is a saint (Romans 1.7), so it is that every believer is a priest. What are the implications of this role? This “gift” (Romans 12.8)? Enter mercy.

Put simply the role of the priest in the Old Testament was to act as a conduit of fellowship between God and His people. When you combine this role with our definition of mercy – an active response to the plight of another – you see that mercy is a “greater gift” (1 Corinthians 12.31) as it empowers the believer to respond to his needy brother/sister with the compassion of God and points them to the one that would bring their healing. Thus the gift of mercy is exercised and the role of priest is on display, accessing the greater mercies of God! Again, mercy seen in the life of a believer most reflects in us the character of God.